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Pentagon unveils measures to curtail sexual assaults. Stringent enough?

Under the new provisions, every victim of sexual assault in the military will be provided with special legal representation, and investigations of sexual assaults will be conducted by military lawyers, rather than less experienced personnel.

By Anna MulrineStaff writer / August 15, 2013

Fleet Master Chief Marco Ramirez of U.S. Pacific Fleet, right, speaks with sailors and victims' advocates about sexual assault, aboard the guided missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, last month.

Oskar Garcia/AP

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Washington

Every victim of sexual assault in the US military will now be provided with special legal representation under new measures announced by the Pentagon’s top official Thursday.

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The regulations will also put into place new prohibitions on inappropriate behavior between recruits and their military trainers, and mandate that investigations of sexual assaults be conducted by military lawyers, rather than less experienced personnel.

“Sexual assault is a stain on the honor of our men and women who honorably serve our country, as well as a threat to the discipline and cohesion of our force,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement Thursday. “It must be stamped out.”

Yet some question whether the moves will be enough to quell growing congressional demands for more stringent steps to bring down the stubbornly high levels of sexual assault within the armed forces.

Instances of US troops who said they were sexually assaulted rose from some 19,000 in 2010 to more than 26,000 in 2012, according to a Pentagon report released in May. However, in the most recent year for which statistics are available, only 3,200 people reported the crime, resulting in 191 convictions.

The Pentagon is under increasing pressure to act in the face of public embarrassments for the US military. Next month, for example, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair will face a court-martial on charges of sexual assault and forcible sodomy of a junior officer. It is only the third court-martial for a US general in 50 years.

Pretrial hearings for Sinclair, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, have included the reading aloud of text messages in which a subordinate captain refers to the general as “Poppa Panda Sexy Pants.”

The court-martial proceedings come on the heels of a disturbing series of debacles for the US military.

In May, the Air Force officer responsible for the service's sexual-assault prevention program was himself arrested for attempting to sexually assault a woman in a parking lot in Arlington, Va. And an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was charged with forcing a lower-ranking soldier to take part in a prostitution ring and sexually assaulting at least two other subordinates.

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